Calories, calories, Kilocalories!
Weight management can seem like a complicated process whether you are trying to lose body fat, gain muscle, or find a nice balance between the two. It doesn’t have to be difficult though. While there isn’t a magic solution, I can give you the next best thing. The secret to weight management is… calories!
Why do calories matter?
Weight management is controlled by two factors: how many calories you consume and how many calories you burn. When the body consumes the same amount of calories as you burn every day, you are in a state of energy balance. This isn’t typically the case though. People commonly consume more calories than they burn, which puts them into a calorie surplus. When you are in a calorie surplus, the body stores those calories for energy later in the form of either body fat or muscle.
The math of it… 3,500 calories = 1 pound
3,500 calories are equal to one pound. This can be one pound of body fat or one pound of muscle. Your body takes in calories through food and drinks that you consume then burns those calories through exercise and daily living. Yes, that’s right. You burn calories for just existing as a human being!
Since 3,500 calories are equal to one pound, an extra 3,500 calories over your burn per week, or 500 calories over your burn per day, will result in one pound of weight gained per week. Most people don’t gain weight this quickly though, so let’s break it down further. Following this method, if you were to consume just an extra 100 calories over your calorie burn per day, a simple fun size candy bar, you would gain 10 pounds a year. Sound familiar? It doesn’t take much. A small calorie surplus every day, over the course of time, will result in weight gain.
The good news is that you can manipulate these factors. By knowing that 3,500 calories are equal to one pound, you also know that you can consume 3,500 calories less than you burn every week to lose one pound per week. This is only a deficit of 500 calories per day! For example, let’s say you burn 2000 calories every day and want to lose one pound a week. It’s just simple subtraction. 2000 – 500 = 1500. You would need to consume 1500 calories per day to lose one pound per week.
Exercise increases calorie burn and helps you lose body fat.
To achieve weight loss, you will need to be in an overall calorie deficit. This is done by consuming less calories and burning more calories. By increasing your daily calorie burn, you will immediately increase your calorie deficit and weight loss over time. This increased calorie burn can come from a combination of moving more throughout the day and targeted exercise programs.
Exercise, particularly strength training, also helps you lose body fat instead of muscle. When you are consuming a calorie deficit, the body has to draw upon stored energy for fuel. This can come from one of two places: body fat or muscle. If your body doesn’t see your muscle as necessary, it will break it down and use it as energy. This is where exercise comes into play. If you are working out and giving your body a reason to keep the muscle, it will break down the body fat and use that for energy instead.
Does is matter where the calories come from?
For general weight loss? No. A calorie is a calorie and your body cannot tell the difference if the calorie comes from broccoli or Oreo Cookies. As long as you are eating less calories than you burn, you will lose weight. Mark Haub, a nutrition professor at Kansas State University, set out to prove that, for general weight loss, it didn’t matter where the calories were coming from as long as you were on a calorie deficit. He ate 1,800 calories a day for 10 weeks, with a diet consisting of Twinkies, Doritos, and sugary cereals. After the 10 weeks were up, he lost a total of 27 pounds, proving that the body doesn’t differentiate between calorie sources. That being said, living off of Twinkies alone isn’t going to provide the nutrients that your body needs to function. If your body isn’t taking in enough protein, an overwhelming portion of the weight that is lost will be from muscle and not body fat.
Monitoring your calories is an essential component of success in any fitness goal. It takes the guessing out of weight loss and gives you the tools to take control of your health. Knowing your calorie intake and your calorie expenditure is the closest thing to a magic solution.